Pirate Site Blocking Legislation Approved By Norwegian Parliament

Norway has moved an important - some say unstoppable - step towards legislative change that will enable the aggressive tackling of online copyright infringement. Proposed amendments to the Copyright Act, which will make it easier for rightsholders to monitor file-sharers and have sites such as The Pirate Bay blocked at the ISP level, received broad support in parliament this week and look almost certain to be passed into law.

Issues surrounding online file-sharing have existed in Norway for many years but events leading up to the relatively recent push for legislative change can be traced back to frustrations linked to the persistence of The Pirate Bay.

In March 2009, the IFPI and several local movie studios began putting pressure on Telenor, Norway’s largest Internet Service Provider. They asked the ISP to block its subscribers from accessing TPB, but Telenor refused.

The ISP insisted there was no legal basis for the action, and they were right. After being taken to court, a subsequent ruling clarified that the ISP had no obligation to block The Pirate Bay. In February 2010 a rightsholder appeal was rejected and it soon became evident that blocking would only be possible following a change in the law.

Just over a year later in May 2011 the Ministry of Culture announced that it had put forward proposals for amendments to the Copyright Act. In January of this year the amendments were presented and on Monday they were put to the vote in parliament. The Labor Progress Party, Socialist Left Party, Christian Democrats and Conservatives all voted in favor of the bill, while only the opposition voted against.

The proposed amendments, which observers say will almost certainly be signed into law, are designed to make it easier to chase down both enablers and end-users of unauthorized material.

In the case of the former, rightsholders may apply to the courts to have ISPs “prevent or impede access” to sites that have “extensively made available material that clearly violates copyrights.”

Website owners will be named as opposing parties in such procedures but if the owner of the site is unknown or has an unknown address “..the case can be decided without the person concerned being given an opportunity to comment.”

In the real world this means that should website owners wish to remain anonymous, they can, but blocking their site will become somewhat of a formality. Expect this to be the case in most instances.

In dealing with end-users of unauthorized material (i.e the general public) the amendments are designed to make it easier for rightsholders to pursue individuals without falling foul of Norway’s data protection laws. Once passed, the new legislation will exempt personal data from the Personal Data Act when processing of such data is necessary for the pursuit of a legal claim.

“If it is likely that copyright or other rights under this law have been violated, the court may, notwithstanding the confidentiality provided by the Electronic Communications Act, at the request of the licensee, require a provider of electronic communications to disclose information that identifies the owner of the subscription used for the violation,” the amendments read.

There are some safeguards to protect subscribers, but whether they will come into effect for straightforward infringement cases remains to be seen.

“In order that the petition should be granted, the court must find that the arguments in favor of disclosure outweighs the interest of confidentiality. In assessing the court shall weigh the interests of the subscriber against the licensee’s interest in gaining access to the information taking into account severity, scope and effects of the violation,” the amendment adds.

Jens Christian Koller of the Parliamentary Information Service told Teknofil.no that while the amendments still have to progress through a second parliamentary hearing before formal adoption, it is very rare for the outcome to differ from that of the first.

“In practice therefore these amendments to the Copyright Act have been adopted, but it is still not correct to say that it has already been formally adopted by the Parliament. What you can say is that it is now very difficult to stop this law,” he concludes.

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